Friday, December 22, 2006

An Advent Mess

Well, here's a quick inventory of where things are along the fault zones of the Anglican Communion:

Truro, Falls Church, and several other Virginia parishes have voted to secede from The Episcopal Church and now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why they allied themselves with an Archbishop who has publicly supported legislation in his own country to not only ban same-sex unions, but to utterly destroy essential human rights for any gay or lesbian. Archbishop Akinola himself begins a difficult dance of words around previous statements the Church of Nigeria made about the "evil of homosexuality." [Mark Harris offers another take on the "CANA two step" here.] Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the breakaway parishes to negotiate a settlement with the Diocese of Virginia regarding the property and assets involved before expensive litigation is joined in the fray.

Calvary Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has reopened a lawsuit against the Diocese, charging that Pittsburgh's edging towards schism remains in violation of canonical and constitutional provisions of The Episcopal Church. They have long been a thorn in Bishop Duncan's and the Diocese's side ever since talk of schism started to turn to action in the form of Diocesan canonical changes over property rights. Looks like +Pittsburgh will have his hands full in the New Year as his own try to hold him accountable to the church that consecrated him.

The Church of England evangelicals are now falling on each other over an attempted covenant that they presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Problem is, it read more like a manifesto or even an ultimatum. The document has provoked considerable controversy, most particularly within the evangelical networks themselves. The Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, long one of the most widely respected, articulate, and scholarly evangelicals in the C of E, has pilloried the proposal and made no bones about his annoyance at what he perceives as an ill-conceived and ill-timed effort.

Tanzania and Uganda have both made serious attempts to throw wrenches into the upcoming Primates Meeting scheduled for February. Tanzanian bishops voted to create a list of anathemas that will, if enforced, keep out virtually every Anglican priest, deacon, bishop and Primate in the Western world, as most have participated in the ordination of a homosexual at some point in their ministry. Adding insult to injury, the Tanzanian bishops included a clause that hangs the weight of the anathemas around the poorest of their own people by blocking aid from other parts of the Communion.

The Archbishop of Uganda issued his own ultimatum. Apparently, ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's steady, graceful presence at the upcoming Primates' Meeting (ironically enough, planned to meet in Tanzania) is just too much to bear. A day or two after the Archbishop's statement went public, Uganda offered the follow-up: an incredible excuse that they had thought that The Episcopal Church had been "suspended" from participation in the Anglican Instruments of Unity (including the Primates' Meeting). The Archbishop of Canterbury has apparently since responded. He has made it clear that ++KJS will be invited to the meeting, effectively calling the bluff of Uganda's Archbishop. But it also seems ++Rowan Williams will be inviting others from The Episcopal Church who represent dissension, or, at least, "Windsor compliance." I am troubled about how this treats the authority of our Presiding Bishop to represent us. At any rate, this suggestion already has the blogosphere abuzz. We will simply have to see whether this exacerbates the situation or begins us moving towards something with which most Provinces can live.

In short, the Anglican Communion begins Christmas suffering from an Advent mess, or really a series of messes wrought by the considerable efforts of those seeking to purify their churches and consciences from the discomforts of being in community with those with whom they disagree.

The media has had a field day, drawing and exaggerating the boundaries and divisions in caricature. I don't know if anyone looks better than anyone else to the outside world. But fighting over sex makes great press. As my friend, John Kirkley, points out, the media's take (and even our own much of the time) is a gross oversimplification of something remarkably more nuanced and complex. And while there are predictions the whole thing is going to hell in a handbasket, including, I must admit, my own. . . most Anglicans, and most Episcopalians, for that matter, have simply gotten on with church. Some have even kept their focus on what it means to be Christian.

The actions of a few Episcopal parishes, the abortive attempts at "covenant" amongst some evangelicals in the Church of England, along with the proclamations from a few African bishops and archbishops only serve to demonstrate the hardship of making a clean break with anything, let alone anyone. Purity and perfection in narrow notions of orthodoxy are impossible ideals to meet -- and perhaps unworthy of such energy in a global context where life is ever more messy and interconnected than many of us care to acknowledge.

Meanwhile, the world's suffering continues. Iraq becomes a greater quagmire than ever as the instigators of the war try to find a way forward, if not a way out. AIDS, malaria, starvation, and economies in shambles remain the most pressing problems for Africa, large swaths of Asia, and the greater Global South. Violence perpetrated in the name of religion is daily fare in many parts of the world. Back at home, our quest for greater productivity has led to scarcity of time for the truly important things: compassion, companionship, and hope. Homeless continue to wander the streets. Poverty is still with us, even in a nation that prides itself in our collective abundance. And the slow creep of global warming and the cries of all creation go on in many places unheeded.

Making the way straight for Christ's coming was the name of the game in Advent. Looks like many of us barely got started, and some of us failed pretty miserably.

But Truro Church and Falls Church, and St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville, VA, will presumably all be open this weekend for Christmas services. So will the many churches of Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. So will thousands of communities in the Episcopal Church, and millions around the world in all kinds of places.

Because we have something in common:

We all agree that the Good News of Jesus Christ is coming anyway, born in the messy company of animals to unmarried parents in a little town far from home. Born into a messy world where the machinations of the powerful continue to grind down those least able to defend themselves -- a world that suffers violence and upheaval on a regular basis. A messy world where most people simply try to keep their heads down and get on with the day-to-day tasks of daily life, praying through the shades of gray and occasional darkness as they wait for the Light.

And, yes, Christ is coming to the Anglican Communion with all the heaped-up vitriol, divisions, and spite that were exchanged this Advent. God is returning to the less-than-admirable attempts at righteousness, the posturing, and the politics. Jesus is walking into the half-baked fear-cloaked-as-theology and the pain of broken communities and friendships. He is coming to the divisions where Christan brothers and sisters deny each other and the Gospel with which they were entrusted. He is coming where the Church has oppressed rather than lifted up, destroyed rather than healed, and focused inward at the expense of focusing outward. He is coming where pride in piety has led to isolation and self righteousness.

God is coming. . .to our mess in dire need of redemption.

People are preparing to enter our churches to hear about that this weekend. They want Good News, even if that means only one more bend in the road of their life journey might be straightened, or at least made a little easier to travel.

Let us therefore put down the language and tools of discord, put on the light, and attend to our doors, keeping awake, ready to open them to the Christchild when he comes, or maybe even go out like the shepherds to behold this miracle given to us, and given as hope to a broken and struggling, messy world.


gayuganda said...

Wow dude,

That is something. A very thoughtful assesment. One of the things bothering me is that the debate seems to be controlled by the radicals. And they are simply drowning out the voice of the ideals of the Church. It makes great press, but what does it have to deal with the love message of Christ?
I was calling for more from LGBT Christians. Unfortunately, in my own country, they are and will remain silent.

R said...

You are very generous to take the time to post here.

Please know my prayers are with you. Keep hope alive, and may you always find the peace of Christ your constant light.